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Business aviation helps beer wholesaler close deals

Jet extends company’s reach in competitive market

When it comes to finding quality craft beer in the south, North Carolina is king. The state boasts more than 135 breweries and brewpubs, the most in the southern U.S. The responsibility of getting the beers from the brewery to the bar falls on regional distributors who compete for the attention of breweries in the state and around the country.

For Caffey Distributing, reaching out to potential brewery partners is less of a challenge due to its use of business aviation. Today, the company stands as one of the 40 largest beer distributorships in the country.

In an industry where cultivating relationships is essential to success, business aviation has quickly emerged as a key tool for the distributors.

“It’s pretty competitive trying to reach those new brands when they decide to come to the market. Our airplane allows us to be much more responsive.”Chris Caffey, president and CEO, Caffey Distributing

Craft beer boom

Business aviation can benefit distributors and wholesalers aiming to widen their reach at a faster pace. Wholesalers comply with the standard three-tiered system of beer distribution, but often face a challenge in attracting independent breweries.

U.S. craft beer sales have steadily risen year over year, according to statistics from the Brewers Association, a trade group. Those numbers accounted for most of the uptick in overall beer sales, as the market has increasingly experienced slow growth.

“It’s not just a premium light beer market anymore,” said Caffey Distributing president and CEO Chris Caffey. “As people have tried different things, they’ve realized, ‘Wow this is kind of fun and exciting and I’m going to try even more.’”

Today, Caffey Distributing is North Carolina’s largest distributor of Miller, Coors and Pabst beers – three of the largest breweries in the U.S. – but with the demand for craft beer rising, Caffey sought out more ways to work with small breweries making a big impact.

The company’s Cessna® Citation® CJ3®+ business jet has helped Caffey Distributing grow. In 2014, the company launched Craft Central, a division of the distributorship focused on introducing smaller, independent breweries into Charlotte and the Piedmont Triad region.

Independent breweries hoping to expand their customer base often seek out companies like Caffey Distributing. Many of those smaller beer makers are regional operations, which today make up 79 percent of the craft beer made in the U.S. Caffey’s ability to take on the role of trusted partner is crucial.

“We’ve been able to use the plane in particular to help recruit those new craft beers into the market. Coincidentally, we’ve expanded our geographic territory.”Chris Caffey, president and CEO, Caffey Distributing

Today Craft Central distributes for 30 craft breweries. Clients from as far as San Diego, California rely on Caffey’s company to distribute their beer throughout the 16-county territory the business covers.

“Part of the reason we’ve been able to accomplish this is by being nimble and being able to respond to opportunities quickly,” he said. “The message to a potential brewery is that you’re important enough to jump on a private plane and fly out there to meet.”

A typical trip for Caffey usually involves flying out of Greensboro early in the morning with his team to meet a client, then returning to the company’s Charlotte offices later in the day to prepare for the following day’s events. He offered up a recent example:

“Six people will be working on a brand kick-off, but they’ll be able to leave on Thursday, fly to Chicago to participate in the distributor meeting with our other brewery partner, and at the end of that meeting turn around, come back Thursday night and be back on Friday for the kick-off events with our new brewery partner.”

The pilot CEO

Caffey also serves as the company’s chief pilot, flying the Citation CJ3+ to meet with brewery representatives around the country.

Visits to breweries in Detroit and meetings with partner wholesalers in Texas are common trips for Caffey and his team. Presentations and pitches are no longer a multi-day event, allowing traveling personnel to spend more time at home.

“You might have four or five people join you on a trip to go make a presentation to a brewery partner. Our airplane allows us to have more efficient use of more people’s time versus using the airlines and staying at the hotels.”Chris Caffey, president and CEO, Caffey Distributing

The range provided by the jet also ensures Caffey can conduct business beyond the southeastern U.S. After previously flying a Cessna Citation Mustang® and a Citation M2®, it was a need for additional speed that convinced him to purchase the Citation CJ3+.

“We can just about go to the West Coast nonstop, depending on how many people we put on the plane, Caffey said. “It’s the perfect combination of speed, range and payload.”

Caffey logged more than 200 hours in his latest jet in just the first year he owned it. As more craft breweries gain traction in the market, Caffey Distributing will set itself apart with the access and efficiency the aircraft provides.

“Flying has always been a passion of mine, and I’m fortunate that our business needs involve an airplane,” Caffey said. “I’m lucky to have been in a position to develop the skills and qualifications that have made me able to be the pilot CEO.”